The Rt. Rev. Jeff W. Fisher, Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, recently pointed me to a video of an Easter anthem by 18th-century American composer William Billings (1746-1800) being sung in the Sacred Harp tradition. The Sacred Harp was a tunebook that was first published in 1844. That tradition, also known as “shaped-note singing,” originated in New England but was practiced primarily in the South. So the 2003 film Cold Mountain, set in Western North Carolina during the Civil War, appropriately featured the singing of a couple of shaped-note hymns. Billings’ anthem “The Lord is ris’n indeed” sounds like this:
I find this tradition of singing to be hauntingly beautiful and other-worldly. It momentarily transports me to another time and place, as though being lifted up into God’s presence. That’s how some people describe sacraments. While this old-fashioned singing might not be transcendent for you, I’ll bet there’s something you’ve seen or heard or experienced that has been — something of haunting beauty that stays with you and feeds your soul. That’s our haiku theme this week.
So write one verse with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. That’s all you need to do. Here’s mine:
Don’t know how they work —
the shaped notes. “Alleluia” —